Saturday, February 28, 2009

Martin O'Neill: A Man for All Seasons

Granted that Arsenal's inevitable fifth place finish has more to do with their own ineptitude than anything else.... But, by all rights, I really should hate Martin O'Neill.

It's just that O'Neill makes it so damned hard to dislike him. The man just exudes everything you want in a manager, especially intelligence and class. And apparently O'Neill makes it very difficult for the Villa supporters to hate him as well.

Last week several hundred supporters paid up to £1500 to travel to Moscow for what turned out to be a drab UEFA Cup match featuring Aston Villa's reserves. The supporters were rightfully angry at the pathetic display, and for splashing out so much cash to watch it. So what does Martin O'Neill do?

According to the Birmingham Mail, O'Neill came to the back of the charter flight on the way back to England:

“He came to speak to us at the back of the plane, which I think was very good of him. He told us that he understood our disappointment and I think that went a long way to making amends.

“He also said that he was going to arrange for a meal at Villa Park for all of the fans that travelled to Moscow.

“He said he had to clear it with Randy Lerner and it would probably be at the end of the season at the Holte Suite, but I think it was a nice gesture. He got a round of applause.

“If we do finish in the top three I think all of this will be forgotten by most of the fans.”


Like I said, how can you hate this man? Randy Lerner has signed off on the dinner too. So, when Aston Villa are playing in the Champions League next season, at least you can say they deserve it.

Read more on "Martin O'Neill: A Man for All Seasons"...

Weekend Preview and Saturday Open Thread

Tranny John Terry is happy that we finally made it to the weekend!


First thing's first. We're looking to make this weekend preview/open thread a permanent fixture, but we need your help coming up with a good name. The best entry will earn eternal fame and a modicum of our gratitude!

Looking over the fixture list, in the infinite wisdom of the European football gods, there's plenty of Sunday action, not as much Saturday. No big standouts but still plenty of footy. Roundup after the jump.


On Sunday, it's the Worthlessingtoncarling Cup between Man U and Tottenham. Is this the first step on Man U's try for the quadruple? Or will the Spurs supporters have more "silverware" to gloat about? All we know is that both teams will be fielding weakened squads. 'Nuff said.


And in the EPL (times are EST)....

Saturday:
7:45 Everton v. WBA
10:00 Chelsea v. Wigan
10:00 Middlesbrough v. Liverpool
10:00 Arsenal v. Fulham

The Arsenal-Fulham match is on FSC and also available for free from Arsenal TV.

Sunday:
7:30 Hull v. Blackburn
7:30 West Ham v. Man City
8:00 Bolton v. Newcastle
10:00 Aston Villa v. Stoke

Aston Villa-Stoke on FSC and available for free online. (h/t Keith)

(There's also a full schedule of midweek fixtures coming up.)


Last weekend we skipped over Serie A altogether because the matches were especially yawn. This weekend....

Saturday:
12:00 Lazio v. Bologna - Zzzzzzzz
2:30 Juve v. Napoli - Eh, it's Juve.

Sunday:
12:00 Sampdoria v. AC Milan - Can Milan get back on track against Crazy Cassano?
2:30 Inter v. Roma - An injury-decimated Roma needs a victory to keep their CL chances alive.

All matches are on FSC. Let me tell you about my love affair with Proactiv!


And in La Liga...

Saturday:
2:00 Espanyol v. Real Madrid - Can Espanyol beat the top two back to back?

Sunday:
11:00 Sporting Gijon v. Mallorca - Only 8 points separate 9th place from relegation.
1:00 Atletico Madrid v. Barcelona - Will Barca rebound after earning only 1 point in their last two matches?


In the Bundesliga (all games at 11:00 EST)...

Saturday:
Hertha v. Borussia Monchengladbach - Hertha faces bottom of table club to stay in title chase.
Energie Cottbus v. Vfl Bochum - The good ol' relegation six-pointer.

Sunday:
Werder Bremen v. Bayern - Both squads coming off mid-week triumphs in Europe, who keeps the mo'?
Hamburg v. Vfl Wolfsburg - Table toppers have two teams hot on its tail.


As always, there's much more: Dundee United versus Hearts in a battle for third in the SPL. Wolves versus the Green Scum of Plymouth in the Championship. Bigus's Norwich versus Coventry (go Canaries!). And my own Exeter City take on point-docked Darlington in a key League Two match. But that's all we got for now.

(And remember to help us out naming this here feature.)

Read more on "Weekend Preview and Saturday Open Thread"...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Backpasses: His Girl Friday

Well, that's another week of UF in the books. Some of us are now partying it up in England, some of us are traveling stateside, some of us are sitting on our sofa. Tonight's backpasses are brought to you by yours truly, filling in for the very able ü75....

Some funny and interesting moments from FIFA 09. [The Offside]
Spot the Englishman, but no fair peeking at the comments! (Even though we all had to) [World Cup Blog]
Arsenal win!!! (the Ladies League Cup) [Yahoo]
Fred has left the building [Soccernet]

USA to lose another player to dual citizenship? [Soccer by Ives]
Is there a viable alternative to the away goals rule? [SI]
FC Dallas adds some firepower to training [The Offside Rules]
UEFA says that Liverpool are the bestest team in Europe. [Caught Offside]
Puerto Rico Islanders become the second USL side to win the first knockout match in the CCL. [Soccernet]
The Seattle Sounders are doing pretty well locally [The Offside Rules]

And finally, happy birthday Arseblog! We love the way you use the c-word as an adjective! [Arseblog]

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: His Girl Friday"...

Liverpool Claims Another Victim

Cultural currency of football in America is often gained through celebrity endorsements. Not the actual paying kind, but when a celebrity chooses to support a club by letting the world know their allegiances. Although, sometimes I wonder if these people are just wearing club gear because it looks "cool." Or has it become cool because a celebrity decides to wear it? Damn these chicken-and-egg scenarios.

Anyway, Liverpool FC has gained a few cents of cultural currency because Maddox Jolie, adopted son of Brangelina, was spotted in Liverpool gear (and not the first time either) and our sweet valentine Kickette has the deets.

If Maddox is a genuine Red fan, I feel sorry for him because he has committed himself to years of almost and a sense of entitlement that will destroy his fragile soccer psyche to the point that he will question every little move a team makes and be gutted if a team, gasp, fails to win silverware as if it were a birthright. This comes from a Liverpool supporter mind you.

Brangelina are the it couple of the moment and maybe by being tied to them LFC can get a bit more star power in its solar system and snag it from the glory chasing Chelsea fans and trendy Arsenal fans. I only hope the snubbing of Ryan Seacrest by them starts a new trend because that is hilarious. I don't want to get into the so-called Barcelona fans that every college student who spent a semester in Europe suddenly becomes. Those douchebags couldn't tell a throw-in from a free-kick if their lives depended on it. Look, I know Barcelona is a great town and plays some lovely football, usually, but just because you spent a week on Las Ramblas doesn't make you Catalan and shouldn't let you think you can now proclaim to be a Barca fan even though you still think Ronaldinho is the best player for Barca. I hate those people.

So, what other celebrity fans are there:

Kobe Bryant--Barcelona (he did only become a fan because of Ronaldinho)
Spike Lee -- Arsenal (could there be a worse fan of your club, oh wait, Osama Bin Laden is an alleged fan)
Will Ferrell -- Chelsea (just like Chelsea, Ferrell blew his wad in the mid-2000s)
Bill Simmons -- Tottenham (does he count as a celebrity? does it count that he did nothing besides write a column about becoming a fan but never mentioning it again?)
Matt Damon -- Arsenal (ok, that is funny)

I'm sure there are dozens more. Put your evidence in the comments.


Read more on "Liverpool Claims Another Victim"...

Drug Trafficking Isn't Just for Mexican Clubs

That's a lot of blow.

You may remember the story a few months ago regarding Mexican club Mapaches de Nueva Italia which was linked to several drug cartels. Well, now it seems that those involved in La Liga want in on some of the action.


Court proceedings began today in Madrid against 11 people who were arrested for cocaine smuggling after Spanish police made arrests on Thursday and seized 600 kilos of cocaine. Um, that's a shit-ton of powder, worth around $100 million after cutting (don't ask how I know these things). The drugs had allegedly been shipped from Argentina (can anyone account for Maradona's whereabouts?) through Tangiers, Morocco into the southern Spanish port of Algeciras. The shipment was then taken by truck to Madrid where the police made their raid before it could be unloaded.

The alleged ringleader of the operation is Serbian-born Zoran Matijevic, a football agent who currently holds French citizenship (oh, I see - blame the French). Even better, Matijevic was once in charge of recruiting for OGC Nice in Ligue 1 - presumably he lured younger players with the promise of copious amounts of blow. His partners in crime also had ties to football, as had recruited (HA! Get it?) Pedrag Stankovic, formerly of second-division club Hercules, and Carlos de la Vega Diaz, a current player for second division club Rayo Vallecano (who are currently in 3rd place).

Given the fact that Spain acts as a port of entry for a significant amount of the drugs entering Europe from South America, the Spanish police have been cracking down on these quasi-cartels over the past few years. I think that Zoran and his boys are in for a bit of quiet time.

Read more on "Drug Trafficking Isn't Just for Mexican Clubs"...

Not Entirely Sure "Burn" Is the Term You Want Your Fans To Associate With Sex

Burnley FC, the team that almost screwed all of EPL London in the Carling Cup, isn't done with screwing just yet.

They have teamed up with something called 'The Condom Collective' to hand out condoms at Saturday's match against Sheffield Wednesday.

I image that sentence confuses people who don't know anything about English soccer.

But hey, sex and football. If they could offer up free beer, they'd hit the trifecta. Although Burnley isn't exactly handing out sexual partners, so there's still some work to be done.

Anyway club-branded condoms will indeed by handed out to supporters at Turf Moor this weekend. However, people can also have them "issued" to them if they are A) under 25 and B) undergo a Chlamydia screening.

Wait, isn't Chlamydia Marta's strike partner on the Brazilian women's national team?

We're not sure what the distinction is between "handing out" and "issuing" and we're not sure why the club only cares about the sexual health of people under the age of 25, but hey, anything that encourages more fucking but doesn't involve Jermain Defoe, we're totally in favor of.

By the way, the old dude on the left... he totally makes us want to do it. Yeah, you try not having his face and that of Sick Boy next to him pop into your head next time you're getting laid.

Read more on "Not Entirely Sure "Burn" Is the Term You Want Your Fans To Associate With Sex"...

Quick Throw: Who knew you could get free soccer on the internet?

Do you want to watch the Arsenal-Fulham match this Saturday? Live in the US, but don't have Fox Soccer Channel? Well, Arsenal is promising a free internet stream for you. You'll have to listen to Ray Parlour, though, so be careful what you wish for.
[Arsenal]

Read more on "Quick Throw: Who knew you could get free soccer on the internet?"...

Rick-Rolled!

So close, but so far away.


It appears we have a winner in the Rick-Rafa tug-o-war that's been simmering on behind the Shankly Gates at Anfield.

After less then a year after having dismissed Tom Hicks' calls for his head, Liverpool's Chief Executive will be stepping down at the end of the season.

Parry will have been at the helm for 12 years, but his absolute safety disappeared when David Moores sold the club to G & H. Over the years, there have been grumblings that Liverpool haven't kept up (financially/marketing-wise, in this case) with the financial juggernaut that is Manchester United, which many saw as a direct result of Parry's short-sightedness. His position has recently come under further fire as Rafa has wrestled for full-control of transfers; Benitez has used Parry's involvement in the securement of players to drag his feet on signing a new contract. But, now with Rick on his way out, Poor Sven's Almanac suggests the winds have changed direction towards Benitez re-upping with Liverpool. (unless you're of the belief that Rafa leaves for Madrid this summer, with The Special One replacing his old rival at Anfield... but that probably just means you should stop reading The S*n)

The Guardian reports that Ian Ayre, LFC's Commerical Director, is next to step into what will likely be a watered-down position.

But, don't cry for Rick Parry. Even in this tough global economic environment, Parry should find himself a cushy job with the FA (or maybe the Premier League) in the none-too-distant future.

Read more on "Rick-Rolled!"...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Mardi Gras is crazy, huh?

Just a heads up for those of you in our Facebook group: On Sunday, I will be posting a thread where you can vote in the UF Power Poll.

Today's Dirty Tackle of the Day is a classic [Dirty Tackle]
For the ladies. Mirko Vucinic. I don't remember if he's in the Hottie World Cup, but he wants to be [The Beautiful Game]
Becks and KG shoot some hoops [The Spoiler]
Five quick n' dirty ways for MLS to build buzz [Match Fit USA]

San Diego Sockers need a new song and they are willing to pay [La Jolla Light]
A possibly legit (though likely not) mock up of the new Philly MLS jersey and crest [MLS Rumors]
Weymouth have a whole lot of players trying out for them [BBC]
Maple Leafs player tries out his footy skills on a breakaway [Gunaxin]
Remaining Champions League members' managers since 2000 [The Best Eleven]

Deadspin don't need our links, but you may not have seen this. A Cristiano Ronaldo Mardi Gras float in Portugal has a little something extra [Deadspin]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Mardi Gras is crazy, huh?"...

Introducing... Norwichomon

We've not mentioned it on the site yet, but Bigus and I, along with Relegation Zone Mikey (the hapless Yiddo referenced from time to time in Hirshey's old DS column) and a couple of others, are heading to England tonight for a spot of live footy.

The cumulative effect of weeks and months of desperate searching for pirated feeds has finally broken us down, and it's high time for a little trip.

And what better weekend than this one in front of us?

We won't be blogging live or anything, as that would be insane; however, we'll be putting together some reports from the road, undoubtedly having two very different impressions of the same events.

And so, Norwichomon was born, the chance for us to report on his beloved Colaship team, as well as the spectacle of New Wembley, the lop-sided nature of the fixture on paper, and the wonderful bureaucracy known as the FA in action.

Our schedule is light, but deadly:
- Norwich City v. Coventry City on Saturday, in what promises to be a must-win for those relegation-threatened Canaries
- Man United v. Spurs in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday.

We'll try and grab a few pictures along the way, including some from a scheduled night out with some of the Norwich players and coaches. We can't promise much, but you can bet I'll be trying to pull a Gerrard and get some DJ knocked out should he not play any Phil Collins.

Read more on "Introducing... Norwichomon"...

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Football Is Going On!


The library of dreams: Middlesbrough.


Now, I had to read the source of this here below gubbage three times today. Unbelievable would be somewhat of an understatement. Most football clubs need the fans to be noisy at home. Heck, Norwich sure do. Players mention it, the manager mentions it, the wonderful Delia mentions it (sometimes drunk while standing in the middle of the pitch).

No one can deny that a home team is buoyed by and benefits greatly from a noisy and passionate home crowd. No one can deny this, except for Sue Watson.

Who's she, you ask?

Someone who has pissed off Middlesbrough fans by writing and orchestrating the distribution of one of the stupidest letters that has ever been written.

Sue, Sue, Sue, How about you, Sue! What did you do?

Sue is the safety officer for Middlesbrough. Apparently Sue doesn't like noise at the Riverside. Acting on some some complaints that folks where banging the back of the south east stand during games, she handed out letters asking fans to only make noise when Boro....SCORE!

Oh Sue!

If it wasn't so ridiculous it would be really funny...Yeah, you are right it is!
Of course Boro fans are not seeing the funny side of Sue's faux pas, and are now fuming at poor old Sue.

An excerpt from Sue's masterpiece....

"I am receiving more and more complaints from our own fans about both the
persistent standing and the constant banging and noise coming from the back of
this stand. Please stop. Make as much noise as you like when we score, but this
constant noise is driving some fans mad.”
Wow! No more singing in Middlesbrough. Of course they will be a laughing stock in the north east from here on out. Can you imagine the Newcastle fans when they visit next?

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH......and "You play in a library" and "You only sing when your reading." You get the drift.

Boro's Chief operating officer Neil Bausor seems to think the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and he says the club DO want noise from the fans.

“We understand the strength of feeling on this issue and we accept the letter could easily have been misunderstood. We apologise to any supporters who have therefore been understandably annoyed." - Neil Bausor.
So if that's true, then Sue truly is a Muppet. She was clearly charged with asking fans to stop banging the back of the stand and got a little confused instead. Decided to destroy any atmosphere Riverside Stadium might of had!

Shhhhhhh. No laughing Sue! (That's Sue on the right.)


This next bit is the best part...Ready? The stand that this sorry tale concerns is in the southeast of the stadium. An area that was set aside by the club just for the singing, noisy fans to gather, in order to cheer on their team as a collective!

Oh Sue, Sue, Sue. What a mess.

Boro are currently facing relegation after failing to win in 14 league games. I'm sure that Sue's silence will inspire Southgate's team to survival.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

-Bigus.

Read more on "SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Football Is Going On!"...

The Shadow Premier League Gets Its Second Team

This all started when The Offside received a Cease and Desist letter from the EPL's (suck it, Barclays) licensing arm, Football Data Co—and if that's not a sexy name, we're not sure what is.

Seems the EPL doesn't like people using their teams' logos and crests and such without their permission

Anyway UF's response was that of any sane entity: to roll out a giant wooden badger (Woot! Two posts, two Python references... it's going to be a good day).

So during some down time while watching the Montreal Impact in the CONCACAF CL last night (yes, we watched it, yes we need help—although 55,000 for a soccer match in Montreal is awesome; nice job Canada). Where were we? Ah, so that time produced the second in the series of EPL logos we might have to resort to using once we all get threatened.

We make a non-binding promise to roll out one of these for every Premier League club. Although we're kind of lazy and often times don't follow through. I don't think we ever even held the final of the FA Cup of Rock.

We understand the need for the EPL to protect their images and such. And we certainly hope we're not at the level of running enough afoul to attract attention but we just find this whole thing childish. Perhaps Football Data Co could instead come up with an agreement for the blogs. Allow limited usage. Specify terms under which it's copasetic.

If not you can see where this might head: A complete shadow league where Narcthistle United plays Pottymouth FC and Livelpool plays Assenal and the results are strangely always identical to the EPL results and it's just stupid.

Again, we'd like to thank Hull City for injecting some sanity into this. Almost solely on the basis of not being twits (and Phil Brown's awesome tan) we wish them enough points to stay up.

Read more on "The Shadow Premier League Gets Its Second Team"...

UF After Dark: He's Still About a Hundred and Fifty Pounds Shy of Being Divine

What good are family for if not to embarrass the God fearing tar out of you?

That John Waters lab experiment gone amiss is actually Wayne Rooney's cousin, Stephen.

He puts on women's clothing and hangs around in bars.

If only it stopped there. According to the accompanying article—and we use that term in the loosest sense possible as the Sun piece is all of a 65-word blurb (hope their writers aren't paid by the word)—the coattail riding 25-year-old not only "regularly dons skirts and frilly knickers to become Coleen Smellybean, a cheeky reference to the Man U star’s wife Coleen, on nights out" but he's also recorded a song or something as his alter queen ego.

It's a pretty good 65 words though as there is still a reference to something called the Tranny Shack.

There are more pics and more embarrassing cousins to be found here (totally NSFW as there is boobage, both male and female) .

If you're too scared for your job to click the second link we can give you this lovely shot of Rooney cousins Steve and Natalie. If you can manage before you have to look away, get a glimpse of the massive Everton tat on his arm.



Okay, just want to make sure you get a good enough look that you have nightmares, too.

Read more on "UF After Dark: He's Still About a Hundred and Fifty Pounds Shy of Being Divine"...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: No fighting here, okay?

How To explain the Champions League to an American non-soccer fan [Red Card]
Relegated to Backpasses: more Becks transfer "news" [Goal]
Soon, Miami will have no pro soccer franchises [The Offside Rules]

Since I read up on him last year, I've thought Roy Hodgson was undervalued by the English fans. Someone agrees with me [EPL Talk]
Police officer from Essex is arrested for his part in the UEFA Cup Final riot in Manchester [Southend Star]

Finally:
Little Fredua is totally going to start trying to crack the bench in Monaco now. Whew [Soccer by Ives]





Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: No fighting here, okay?"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

The WPS(L) (i.e. the new American women's soccer league) introduced its Puma line of jerseys yesterday, and the internet is just abuzz about one thing--the damn shorts. Actually, I would call them skorts. Despite what Sepp Blatter may want, I'm going to go ahead and call this out as a marketing ploy to get people talking about WPS(L). Those stupid little flaps will not see the pitch, simply because they would impede play.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's take a look at what this column really cares about, and that's the shirts. There is one definite winner out there, some who came close, and then a host of also-rans.

Let's start with the loser of the day.

Poor Boston Breakers. Not only do you share the name and certain design elements of a USFL team, you also got stuck with the least imaginative look from Puma. It's Blue. It's White. It's symmetrical. Yay for symmetry, but otherwise--blah. Hope you stick around in Boston longer than your American Football counterparts.

The worst name in WPS(L) goes to FC Gold Pride. It probably wouldn't shock you if I told you that the team was located in California, would it? As you can probably guess, these shirts were made on a template. I'm not really big on shirts all looking the same, differentiated only by color, but that's pretty much what Puma does. This is slightly better, I guess, than the Breakers kit, but only just. While I guess that's supposed to be black and gold, I just see black and sand.

If you want to go for the prize of "least thought given to what we want to do," go give it to the Los Angeles Sol. Their badge mimics the old Galaxy one, and their colors do the same. I guess Anshutz Entertainment Group didn't want to mess with the winner it had on the MLS side of things.

Now things are starting to look up. For the next three teams, I feel there is a dead heat for second place.
I'm going to give the first of the seconds (I know, I know) to the Washington Freedom. Copious amounts of navy and red are perfect for the national capital's team. Plus that badge is well-done too. I definitely have a soft spot for the incorporation of the city's flag into the badge. Now if only they could steal the "Taxation without Representation" off of the license plates, they would be set.

Sky Blue FC do not operate anywhere where you expect these colors, but instead in New Jersey. While one would figure on the sky blue for the home kit, I really like the orange for an away shirt. That badge is nice as well, if a little abstract (what is that, a bird?).

Much like the above entry, I'm not sure if I equate Saint Louis with Emerald Green, but that doesn't make the shirt any less nice. I'm not sold on two parts of this team and its shirt--the nickname Athletica and the badge that looks like it belongs in lower-league England where the clubs just take the city crest. Still that green is rather swell, and, as you can see in the slideshow at the bottom, Hope Solo looks very nice in it.

Winner winner, chicken dinner!

THIS is how you do it. Chicago Red Stars (or should I say Rad Stars?) add a little flair to the shirt and it just pops. Plus, in so doing, they pull out the ü75 favorite--incorporating the city flag. As Precious Roy said in the emails earlier--this is what the Fire should be doing as well. And they could, but they wouldn't get the extra subliminal bump that the ladies get with the stars right across their breasts. I don't consider myself to be a mouthbreathing neanderthal, but that is marketing well-done. Now if we could only do something about those skorts.

The promised slideshow. Hope is toward the back

Find more photos like this on Women's Professional Soccer

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

CL Liveblog: cometh the Tinkerhour, cometh the Tinkerman

Allow me to set the mood for Precious Roy, who shall be doing us all a solid by covering the afternoon's "big" fixture on ESPN2, the one that inexplicably involves Spartak London.

As Autoglass intoned earlier, they're up against the good manager they had before Mourinho, so respect and adulation will be in full effect (until Juve score an away goal, that is).

Will an English side come off good against Serie A yet again?

Oh, and in that other fixture, the failed ex-Spurs manager welcomes the failing Liverpool manager (soon to be ex? Surely not) to the Bernabeu for what promises to be a gripping, thrilling 0-0 draw.

It's the Champions League, take 2. After yesterday, we'll take all the goals we can get.

Fixtures, lineups and Precious Roy's commentary (from kick-off through to the bitter end) after the jump.

LINEUPS FOR THOSE GAMES WE'RE INTERESTED IN

Real Madrid v. Liverpool
Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro, Heinze, Robben, Gago, Lassana Diarra, Marcelo, Higuain, Raul.
Subs: Dudek, Saviola, Sneijder, Guti, Metzelder, Miguel Torres, Van der Vaart.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Benayoun, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera, Torres, Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, Gerrard, Babel, Lucas, Ngog.
---
Spartak London v. Juventus
Spartak (in a 4-1-2-3): Cech, Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, Ashley Cole, Kalou, Ballack, Lampard, Mikel, Drogba, Anelka.
Subs: Hilario, Ivanovic, Mancienne, Ferreira, Malouda, Di Santo, Stoch.

Juventus (in a catenaccio-inducing 4-4-2): Buffon, Chiellini, Mellberg, Legrottaglie, Molinaro, Nedved, Camoranesi, Sissoko, Tiago, Del Piero, Amauri.
Subs: Manninger, Grygera, Marchionni, Poulsen, Marchisio, Iaquinta, Trezeguet.

And we're live... Okay, someone at ESPN got my note about the weenie techno music. It's gone. Instead our montage features someone who just discovered Trapcode's 'Shine' plug-in. Everything in moderation there, boys.

Oh, and can I add another ESPN-specific comment? Hey guys, go fuck yourselves. All Chelski, all United. It's what we can expect when the 4-letter gets the Prem rights. Not that this is a bad match, but I think the Liverpool v. Real match-up holds a little more intrigue for the impartial fan.

Oh fuck, the crawl is running something called a "Tiger Alert." Big fucking deal. It's golf. The ball isn't moving. Nobody is trying to prevent him from hitting it. If they break the full screen picture at any point to tell me about fucking Tiger Woods I am going to drive to Bristol and vandalize their bike rack.

Secret: I want Del Piero to get a brace. I love that guy. Donadoni lost his job because he didn't love that guy.

The Portabook is the new Sham Wow! Discuss.

NY Kid: You're French, I'm Italian. I think they fully explains our positions on the matter.

Our ref is a Portuguese insurance broker.

Jesus, Juve is as old as Chelsea, aren't they?

Kick

And we're off...

1st minute: Think the ball has hit the ground 3 times in the first 30 seconds.

2nd minute: The mids are jamming each other. Neither team has seen the other's attacking third.

3rd minute: Chelski finally get a deep throw in, but Bosingwa puts too much weight on it and Juve shields it out for a goal kick.

4th minute: Amauri with a nice turn to get some space, but Terry cuts him off and Chelsea come back the other way. Kalou with a shot that is handled by Buffon.

5th minute: Shit... I'm going to have to type Cameronesi a bunch today aren't I? I always fuck it up. I'm sure it's wrong there. He committed a foul anyway.

6th minute: How many times are they going to mention Terry's miss from last season? Juve moving deliberately.

7th minute: Chelsea waste a chance. Chiellini makes a mistake but the deep cross is cleared out, only to be picked up by Ballack who sends it high and wide and nowhere near a threat.

8th minute: Oooh... Bosingwa from the end line with a cross that finds Drogba on the head. Could have easily scored but it goes high and Juve dodge a bit of a buller. First real threat of the match.

10th minute: First bench shot of Guus. Spartak with the balance of possession here. But they are backing up.

11th minute: Long ball in by Terry and on contact Drogba goes down. No penalty. That could have gone either way. There was contact, but Drogba went down too easily.

12th minute: Free kick, Chelski. Lamps kicks it to the... Goal! 1-0 Chelsea.

Okay, the free kick went to the feet of Cameronesi, but Juve didn't clear. Kalou collected it from about 35 out and made a nice feed to Drogba slipping through the defense. Juve held up like he was offsides but nope. He slipped it past Buffon and we're 1-0.

14th minute: Sorry, right on the goal, blogger wants to be slow to load the updated page.

15th minute: Could be 2-0. Okay, Anelka gets in on the left. Mellberg blocks the low shot out ofr a corner. On the corner Drogba gets free and unmarked gets a good header on it that just goes wide of the post left. He could have just as easily buried that. Juve getting toyed with.

17th minute: Juve look like Inter did yesterday in the first have. At least they have the excuse of being on the road.

19th minute: Juve just look lost in the midfield. And their backline is going to get caught pushing high before too long. Showing the replay on the Drogba goal. It was close, but the ref let it go. Sissoko on the other end takes a shot but it never is near on goal sliding low and right and away from danger.

20th minute: Frank makes a shoe change on the fly.

21st minute: Juve almost string together 4 passes. Almost.

22nd minute: Cole with a ball to Ballack but they are on the wrong page and the ball rolls to Buffon. Tommy Smyth just asked "Where's Del Piero?" Oh, and Tiago with a pass to Del Piero almost on cue. It's a good shot that goes just wide of the far post low.

23rd minute: And Juve blows the chance to level on the resulting corner. The ball clears the mass of humanity in the box and falls to Chiellini on the groud at the back post. But he's off balance and can't get a foot it. No soup for him.

24th minute: Juve have shown up finally. Shot (can't see who) sent a rocket that was deflected out for a Juve corner. Terrible corner goes long to Nedved who should have been carded for an intentional hand ball. But no...

26th minute: Some nice work from Drogba in a 1-on-2. He holds it up waiting for Lampard, but Mellberg gets a nice header on it to clear the threat. Good stuff from both teams now as Juve go forward and Chelsea counter.

27th minute: Cech punches out a Juve corner. Ball comes back it. Kalou chases it to midfield but Juve kepp it. And Cole fouls Cameronesi. Juve in the game now.

28th minute: Nice turn by Del Piero to get space. But his shot is maybe one of the 12 worst ever taken in football. Don't think he even hit the corner flag on the far side.

30th minute: Every time Chelsea get a dead ball, Blogger doesn't want to respond to my mouse clicks. Anyway, Spartak wasted a free kick from about 35. It went into the wall.

My clock disappeared so I don't know what minute it is. Nice work ESPN.

32nd minute: Chiellini doing his best to keep the ball in his own end. Spartak with a corner of a deflected shot. Juve's marking and clearance off of corners is really, really bad. Tottenham-esque.

33rd minute: And off another corner there is danger for Juve. But Terry's header is weak and goes right to Buffon. Just an aside... Roman should get wages back from Drogba for the last 6 months of the season because the guy out there today proves that the guy out there before today wasn't giving shit for an effort.

35th minute: Nice touch by Amauri to feed Nedved and Nedved goes down on almost no contact to waste the threat. Ballack gives it back... but Cole steals it and there should have been a foul as he hacked Sissoko. Instead Chelski play it around the Juve box. A couple of nice passes until Juve can get it to play it out. Sissoko still down.

38th minute: Sissoko up and we play on...

39th minute: Chelski holding possession. Some really nice touch passing almost gives a streaking Drogba a shot. Instead the danger is turned away. Cole should get a yellow for hacking Del Piero but he doesn't. Cunt. Cole that is.

41st minute: Chelsea owning possession. Kalou takes the ball on the right and drives deep. He gets a low cross off but it's too deep and collected by Buffon.

42nd minute: Nedved with a weak shot after a bad clearance by Bosingwa. It rolls to Cech and we play on...

43rd minute: Bosingwa trips Nedved. That might have been a card. And now we've got a late but accurate whistle for a hand ball on Drogba. Juve with a free kick from about 22 out.

45th minute: Del Piero kicks it right into the two man wall. Derrick Rae jinxed him by calling Del Piero a 'free kick master' right when he took it. Dick.

1 minute of stoppage time.

+1 minute: Nedved wins a corner and takes it quickly. Cech comes out to make the save. And it's a decent one as there were unmarked Juve players waiting for it.

Half.

And it's another montage with too much of the Shine plug-in. Good to give your video 101 interns a run out. It's the Champions League, how about putting 1/100th the resources to it that you do to trailing A-Rod or Brady?

Unbelievably Juve actually have more possesion. Really?

The more I hear Tommy Smyth, the less I care for him. He was conviced that the goal was the work of Ballack. All he did was gather the deflection and feed it to the top of the box. It wasn't even a good pass. Kalou did all the work to make space and feed Drogba. I don't even have a European accent and I could see that.

Second Half

Kick

46th minute: Good start from Chelsea. Juve can't clear and from 30 out front Ballack fires one that goes wide right.

47th minute: Quickly back the other way and Del Piero's low shot is blocked out by Alex for a Juve corner. Cleared but not out. It comes back in and a header is sent out for another Juve corner.

48th minute: Cameronesi's corner is low and short and toe punched back toward midfield. Sissoko wins a footrace and Juve tunr it back upfield.

49th minute: Nedved with space outside the box takes a long shot with little on it that was never going to bother Cech. That was a bit of a waste. Pavel, don't be a hero.

50th minute: A great cross from Bosingwa finds a streaking Drogba who turns it toward goal with great power but it's wide right. Nice work between the two. Both the feed and the work by Drogba. Cameronesi is grabbing his hammy. Uh oh... Got a change coming for Juve if they can get someone up and ready.

52nd minute: Molinaro gets a yellow. Totally earned. Late and high and studs up he stepped on Mikel. Marchionni on for Cameronesi.

54th minute: Drop ball. Not sure why. Thought Alex fouled someone. Huh...

55th minute: Drogba in the box. Cheillini with the challenge. He barely gets near him and Down Goes Didier, Down Goes Didier... No call. And no call was the right call. Drogba pitches a fit.

56th minute: Juve a bit sloppy. But Chelsea can't take advantage. Cole takes down Del Piero. No call.

57th minute: Chelsea corner: Lampard. Juve can't clear it. After some slop it finds Lampard who kicks it to Buffon. Ballack cleats Nedved in the knee as things were headed the other way and he gets a yellow for that foul.

59th minute: Terry with a push. Nice job. Free kick to Juve from 45.

60th minute: And Cech makes a mess of it almost to the point of getting a penalty as he took out Amauri(I think). That was really bad by Cech. Tiago looks hurt no, so he's coming off after a collision with one of his own players. Despite looking less crisp, Juve not without chances.

62nd minute: Marchionni with a blast that goes past the far post by just a couple of feet. More pressure from Juve.

64th minute: Juve with more possession. But not pressing much with it. Long ball goes to Cech harmlessly and he collects it.

65th minute: For someone on a yellow, Ballack, that's a fucking stupid foul. You got zero ball and all ankle.

66th minute: All kinds of space for the kids in blue, but Kalou is offside.

67th minute: Chelsea is starting to look a step slower, but Juve doing nothing to take advantage. Kalou offsides again. Flag was slow to go up.

68th minute: Amauri's header falls to Nedved who takes another shitty shot. Marchionni gets it back in to the box twice. The second feed goes toward the top of the box but Del Piero can't get to it to keep the pressure on for Juve.

70th minute: Kalou with a cross into the box. Drogba was free but the ball went right to Buffon.

72nd minute: Sorry, after a crowd shot of Bob Geldof's doppelganger I made a joke that blogger didn't like so it fed me a few errors. We missed a Juve corner and Amauri just made a run in deep on the right. Alex cleared it for a corner.

Oh and Malouda came on for Kalou.

74th minute: Bosingwa with a low cross in punhced away. Mikel gets in on Amauri and it's a free kick to Juve.

75th minute: That last bit probably didn't make sense. Mikel fouled Amauri... Chelsea on a break. Anelka chips it from the center to Malouda. It goes off him and past the end line. Goal kick taken by Buffon.

77th minute: Ballack with a second bit of play that was kind of rought for someone on a yellow. Didn't even draw a look from the ref though. Alex fouls Amauri and the ball goes of Ballack who appears to be giving a bear hug to someone. Really, let me say this a 3rd time because he's not playing like someone on a yellow.

78th minute: Sissoko splits two Chelsea defenders, gets taken down and earns a free kick. Del Piero has been shite on the free kicks. Flag was up anyway.

80th minute: Cole with a great ball to Lampard. He picks out Anelka on the right who crosses it in. Bad job by Le Sulk. Drogba was open but the ball missed him by plenty.

Mancienne in for Chelsea. Ballack off. Good move by Guss. Ballack is tired and he's playing reckless on a yellow.

82nd minute: Yellow for Sissoki. Deserved. He chopped someone... could tell because I was checking out the comments where I got shredded for picking Sporting against Munich. Drogba again takes a dive. Chiellini got him shoulder to shoulder. Was probably a bit of a risk, but that wasn't a PK's worth.

84th minute: So, 180 minutes of liveblogging and I'm going to get 1 fucking goal for my efforts. Thanks Champions League. What the fuck...

Also, is someone else cleaning up behind me and editing? I keep getting duplicate edit errors.

86th minute: Trezeguet on. Sissoko off.

87th minute: Oooh... Anelka from way out almost beats Buffon to the far post. THat was a rocket from about 25-plus. Really, nice by Le Sulk. Then on the other side Trezeguet can't get a good foot on it from the edge of the box. Both teams with chances. Still 1-0.

88th minute: I'm going with Nedved and Amauri as the biggest disappoitments of the match. Nedved's work rate has been good, but his touches have been disastrous. Juve chasing the game. Drogba with a ball from Lamps and he gets in the box and he doesn't go down. That's a mild surprise.

90th minute: Marchisio with an easy yellow on an intentional hand ball to stop a Chelsea break as Juve are pushing people forward.

Three minutes of stoppage time.

90 +2: Chelsea playing possession. Nice work by Amauri to keep the ball for Juve. They earn a free kick.

Juve get two good balls in the air but can't get a head on the end of eithe one. Nervy moments for Chelsea, then they break and have the advantage... It's snuffed out. Second left.

Oh, and Nedved with a deflected ball that JUST misses the right post. Then the ref fucking blows the call and gives a goal kick to Chelski. How did they not see the deflection of Alex. Juve robbed of at least a corner. Almost disaster as it was as Nedved's shot went just wide.

Full time. Spartak London 1 - Juventus 0

Read more on "CL Liveblog: cometh the Tinkerhour, cometh the Tinkerman"...

Quick Throw: Nummer 69

Even though Dino Drpic wasn't allowed to pull on the number 69 for Karlsruher SC thanks to the prudish Bundesliga that doesn't mean the club won't try to make money from the stunt. The club is selling number 69 jerseys on its website.

Read more on "Quick Throw: Nummer 69"...

Champions League Preview: Sporting v. Bayern


The first leg of the Champions League knockout round continues today at 2:45 (EST), with the remaining 8 clubs facing off. Sporting Lisbon finished second in their group, behind Barcelona and ahead of FC Basel and Shaktar Donetsk.

Bayern Munich finished first in their group, ahead of Lyon, Steaua Bucuresti, and Fiorentina.

Sporting coach Paulo Bento sees his side come into the knockout stage after having played second-fiddle both domestically and in European competition for the past few months.

The club was always projected for second in their group behind Barcelona in the Champions League and they are making their first ever appearance in the knockout stage, while at home in Portugal they trail perennial favorite Porto by 4 points for the title.

Bayern, in contrast, sit 4th in the Bundesliga amidst an up-and-down season, but have been consistent Champions League contenders in their history (aside from last year) winning 4 titles in the competition with the last coming in 2001.

Unfortunately for Sporting, they have failed to beat a Bundesliga side in their 14 previous attempts during UEFA competitions, and many feel that today's match represents another uphill battle despite being played at Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon. Bento himself has downplayed expectations:

"For a number of reasons, Bayern are clear favourites. They are a very well-organised team and well-balanced, so we have to be organised and, above all, enjoy the game."
Coming into this match, Sporting will have to deal with the loss of striker Postiga to injury, while Bayern will most likely may able to start Luca Toni as he returns from injury. The renewed pairing of Toni with Klose, who is tied for the CL leading scorer position with 5 goals, should give Bayern a reasonable edge in this match.

Expected Line-ups:
Sporting Lisbon: Tiago, Silva, Tonel, Polga, Grimi, Rochemback, Izmailov, Vukcevic, Moutinho, Liedson, Derlei

Bayern Munich: Rensing, Oddo, Lucio, van Buyten, Lahm, Altintop, van Bommel, Ze Roberto, Ribery, Klose, Toni

Prediction:
2-1 Bayern, with goals from Lahm, Klose, and Liedson.

1-0 Bayern in the 2nd leg, with a Ribery goal.

Read more on "Champions League Preview: Sporting v. Bayern"...

Liverpool vs. Real Madrid - Interview time!


There is so much riding on this match, and not just the hopes and dreams of our Scouser brethren.

Some folks are using this to show off whether they are healthy or not, while others will be using it to interview for a new job.

Meanwhile, Rafa is acting like he needs to dump his Starter Wife for next year's model. Poor Ramos. I hope the spiked vitamin water he's been feeding everyone at Bernabéu will sustain tonight's contract hubris.

One thing is certain: outside of all the coach talk, there will be a nice match tonight.

Real started off the season as a club in crisis mode, but Ramos' steady hand has turned them around, and now they've been beating down semi-tough La Liga talent to make it look more impressive than they may actually be. They are playing a lot crisper in their attack, and they are serious in their play. Expect from them some excellent passing in the midfield and some serious attacks. They'll be playing like they have nothing to lose.

Liverpool's been, well Liverpool-ian. Playing dominating football at times in the EPL, and mailing in the rest. Rafa's contract has kept the club in a media circus tent for the past month or so, and it's becoming a distraction. Stop being a weenie, and either sign it or not. The Over/Under on the announcers discussing Rafa's contract is currently sitting at 87.



Who to watch for:
For Real, it will be the striker of note - Raul, the Fresh Prince of Madrid. Keeping him marked and off the ball will be the key to Liverpool's defensive success. Skrtel will have his hands full with him.

For Liverpool, hope that Stevie G can feed Kuyt all day, as he will be the one who needs to have the big game. Torres will get his chances, but Dirk has the passion that makes the Scousers wet themselves (more than usual).

Probable Teams:
Real: 1-Iker Casillas; 4-Sergio Ramos, 3-Pepe, 5-Fabio Cannavaro, 16-Gabriel Heinze; 11-Arjen Robben, 8-Fernando Gago, 6-Lassana Diarra, 10-Wesley Sneijder; 7-Raul, 20-Gonzalo Higuain

Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 23-Jamie Carragher, 37-Martin Skrtel, 2-Andrea Dossena; 20-Javier Mascherano, 14-Xabi Alonso, 11-Albert Riera; 8-Steven Gerrard, 18-Dirk Kuyt; 9-Fernando Torres

Prediction:
Madrid 1 - 1 Liverpool

Read more on "Liverpool vs. Real Madrid - Interview time!"...

Champions League Preview: Villareal v. Panathanaikos


One of the ugly duckling matchups in the Champions League, not many people are paying attention outside of Spain or Greece because of those bigger, fancier, more glamorous encounters between old foes, the kinds of games that wet the trousers of any tabloid journalist.

And yet, this might turn out to be one of the more entertaining pairings, simply because neither team has anything to lose.

You see, while the high-profile managers at Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, Manchester United, etc are worried about their title races, these two teams are unfettered of that concern. The Greek League was wrapped up weeks ago, and La Liga isn't about to be threatened by a force existing outside of Barca or the capital.

And such, when you're unburdened by other concerns, or the crushing pressure to deliver in the marquee game, these two can simply kick the shit out of one another for 180 minutes and see what happens.

Case in point: Atletico and Porto. There's precious little else to worry about away from the Champions League, and so, they give us a reasonable 2-2 draw and an overwhelming sense that they're not playing for the trite, tense 1-0 aggregate win. Not having a league trophy to dream about certainly helps. (When was the last time Portugal was competitive, anyway?)

Villareal are in decent form, holding down 4th place in La Liga, as far off the pace as anyone around them. They loaned off Jozy Altidore, and make do with the strike pairing of Nihat, the flair-less Turk, and Italian/US Giuseppe Rossi. They've been sleepwalking as of late, narrowly beating relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon and Numancia while drawing to two other minnows, Osasuna and Racing, and getting walloped by Deportivo. Hardly the stuff of legend, really. Their midfield is solid, if aging, with the spritely Santi Cazorla perking up the 30-somethings around him.

In the Greek league, Pana have won 7 of their last 10, but honestly, how good a barometer is that? Should we rank them highly in our Power Rankings? We all know the Greek league is Pana, Olympiakos, and then nothingness. There's the added frisson of interest thanks to the ex-Chelsea assistant Hank Ten Cate being at the helm, as well as the resurgence of Spanish defender Jose Sarriegi who has been essential to the Greeks' qualification for the knockout stages.

Recent form aside, these fixtures yield the kind of shocks and nightmares that keep massive clubs awake at night. To draw a team like Pana or Villa means you're fighting an enemy that's not afraid to die, and yet you still need to do the killing.

When they face each other? Shit, we might get one of those freakish 4-3 results that Bayern and Lyon provided in the final round of the group stage.

Prediction:
With precious little knowledge of either team, I'm picking the Greeks to get it done, as they're the darkest of the dark horses left in the competition.

2-1 Pana at home, 1-1 in Spain.

Read more on "Champions League Preview: Villareal v. Panathanaikos"...

UF Quick Throw: Rafa Out at Anfield?

At least one bookie thinks so:

William Hill has suspended betting on Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez leaving the club before the weekend. A spokesman for the bookmakers said they were told by a source that the deadline for the Spaniard to sign his new contract had passed and that he would therefore be gone by the weekend.

"There were too many calls for it to be just a rumour," said the spokesman, but sources in Spain claimed that they did not believe the Liverpool manager would be leaving his position any time soon.

Oh wait, that's two bookies. SkyBet isn't taking any more action on it either.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Rafa Out at Anfield?"...

Champions League Preview: Chelsea v. Juventus

Chelsea supporters will show Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri the utmost in respect today when Juventus visit Stamford Bridge for the first leg of an intriguing Champions League Round of 16 tilt.

I remember well my mixed feelings when he was sacked.

Most forget that Ranieri spent four years leading the Blues. Before Roman Abramovich bought the club, Claudio had taken Chelsea, always 6th it seemed, always losing the big matches to Arsenal and United, into Champions League contention.

It’s been said that the Russian chose Chelsea because of the Champions League spot that Ranieri secured the year before on the final weekend.

More on The Tinkerman and today’s match after the break.

For those who don't know, Ranieri bought Frank Lampard from West Ham.

Think about it for a second. He didn’t use Russian billions, yet secured perhaps the best English midfielder of his generation for a relative bargain of 11M quid.

Similarly, he brought in William Gallas. With Abramovich’s riches, he smartly signed Joe Cole, Claude Makelele, Peter Cech, Arjen Robben and Wayne Bridge. The man also made John Terry captain and as a result, perhaps, of England.

To put it another way, the Chelsea Revolution began under Claudio Ranieri.

Think of his work in the context of Manchester City’s bumblings. Bigus can blow me - Chelsea did it right and Claudio was the key. The Tinkerman made it to the Semis of this competition in 2004 before being sacked by Abramovich, and the sacking was proper.

Big clubs had fallen away, the trophy was there to be taken, and Ranieri bungled and lost to Monaco (yes, Monaco!) in that Semi. He proved that he couldn’t take Chelsea to the next level in a bizarre tactical display that is redolent of the work of a certain current Spanish gaffer up on Merseyside.

Mourinho and trophies galore soon followed. We won the Premiership twice! Chelsea won the Premiership twice, but I’ll never forget those heady days when the Gentleman Italian showed the world how to spend wisely and manage a dressing room made crazy by money and absurd talent.

Remember that in that magic year of 2004, Ranieri finished just second to that perfect Arsenal side. No shame in that. (By the by... I fucking hate Arsenal.)

Today, Ranieri brings Juventus (the man has landed well) into Stamford Bridge for a fixture with drama only reduced in the shadow of yesterday’s Mourinho-Ferguson tilt.

Chelsea enter today’s match having found some nice form under new manager Guus Hiddink. After conceding to Watford, they exploded for three goals to run away with it. This past weekend’s 1-nil scoreline at Villa Park understates the dominance that they displayed.

Meanwhile, Juventus sit second in Serie A, 9 points off of Mourinho’s Inter and 2 clear of Meelan, but they haven’t shown their best of late. The side that beat Real Madrid twice in the Champions League Group Stage has drawn twice and lost twice in eight Serie A matches in the New Year. They haven’t been held scoreless, but they’ve yet to score three.

Two clubs in mediocre form at best, but Chelsea have had a bit of a bump just recently, and I remember The Tinkerman’s tactics in that fateful Spring.

It still hurts...


Prediction:
I feel a big effort coming from my Blues. Many of these players still taste the bitterness of last Spring’s defeat in Moscow on penalties. I’ll boldly call it Chelsea 2, Juventus 0. Juventus take the Turin leg 2-1, but Chelsea still advance. Make it so, Guus...

Read more on "Champions League Preview: Chelsea v. Juventus"...

Could This Be The End Of The Diego Maradona Experiment?

It would be a shame if the world lost Diego Maradona as the Argentina National Team manager without a classic meltdown or drug scandal. The Sun is reporting that El Pibe de Oro is facing a year in jail after a hit and run incident in his homeland. The Bane of England allegedly rammed a phone booth with his 4x4 injuring two while presumably trying to take out Clark Kent at 6 a.m.

Now, if I know anything about Argentina and its national hero and South American politics, Diego will not be facing too severe sanctions. This will still allow a Maradona meltdown when he will undoubtedly call up his grandson, Aguerodona, to the 2010 World Cup team.

Lord, please let it happen.

Read more on "Could This Be The End Of The Diego Maradona Experiment?"...

Quick Throw: Adidas v. Puma

Great piece from Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger about the rise and fall of two German footwear companies. For some reason, I did not realize Puma was a German company and knew nothing of the family intrigue involved in the history of these two companies.

[Soccernet via The Offside]

Read more on "Quick Throw: Adidas v. Puma"...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: His painting is nice

Before we get started tonight, a quick recap of the day's Champions League action:
Draw-Draw-Draw-Arsenal Win.
Well, that works for me. On to the links

OK, OK, I'll expand. Juninho's goal was sublime. Bendtner is shite. This goal was the funniest thing of the day [101 Great Goals]
Quick update: the BNP has cancelled their march in Liverpool that upset the Everton-Stoke game [BBC]
Wait. Which one is real and which one is fake? [The Offside]

Oldest and youngest goal scorer in select leagues this season. Jozy shows up twice [The Best Eleven]
Real Madrid president figures the tie with Liverpool will be a 5-1 cakewalk [Daily Mail]
Indian Sports Minister says hero team of 1956 could beat modern day Indian squad [Reuters]

Finally:
There are times to run a group celebration after a goal. This was not one of them [Dirty Tackle]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: His painting is nice"...

UF Quick Throw: Fletcher Shipped to Liverpool

This one is a bit tough because, well, apparently the incident was fairly horrific. Darren Fletcher was burglarized whilst he was away in Italy to play for United; and his fiancee and her mother were held at knifepoint during the incident. Not good.

No, he wasn't actually sold to Liverpool, it's just that the episode is Liverpool-esque. Even the soccernet article bothers to point out: "The raid follows a series of break-ins at the homes of Liverpool players in recent months while they have been away playing high-profile matches."

This is also the basis of the running inside UF joke of the day. We're awful people, yes. But nobody was hurt, so forgive us.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Fletcher Shipped to Liverpool"...

Champions League Liveblog: Ashtray Floors, Dirty Clothes, And Filthy Jokes



Yeah, I can't hardly wait either. But we're inside of an hour to the start of the round of 16 for the Champions League.

Did you think we wouldn't liveblog at least one of the matches?

Inter v. United. Line-ups in a bit. Liveblog at kick.

Taking one for the team here. Every time I go to watch Arsenal at Fearon's they lose or draw (the FA Cup win over Cardiff being the exception that proves the rule). So I will watch the Special One and the Satanic One.

Outside of the Euro and the World Cup, the next two days might be the best in football.

Line-Ups

Inter Milan: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Rivas, Chivu, Santon, Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari, Stankovic, Ibrahimovic, Adriano.

Subs: Toldo, Cordoba, Maxwell, Figo, Cruz, Burdisso, Balotelli.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Ronaldo.

Subs: Foster, Rooney, Nani, Scholes, Fabio Da Silva, Gibson, Tevez.

So, of note: Evans and O'Shea are playing. Rooney and Tevez are bench subs.


"You're looking live at the San Siro in Milan, Italy..." Okay, no Musberger but we have live pictures on ESPN2. And they aren't in HD? What the fuck ESPN?

They do a montage with some of the weeniest skinny techno music ever. Apparently ESPN assigns all of its gay interns to soccer.

I'll say it: Zlantan Ibrahimovic is one unattractive man.

ESPN is importing commercials from FSC. They are trying to sell me a Snuggie. O/U on how many Proactive spots they run?

Highlights of Porto under Mourinho beating United. Ha ha, eat shit Sir Alex.

T-minus 5 minutes: I am so excited. I just can't hide it. I think I want the Champions League theme played at my wedding. Any surprise I'm not close to being married?

T-minus 3 minutes: Could they find dorkier looking kids to accompany the players?

Dear Zlatan: When I'm upside down on my mortgage, can I live under your nose? Thanks, Precious Roy.

T-minus 1 minute: Oh my God. Kick already. And then somebody on United get hurt already.

KICK: And we're off...

And someone decided to call me right at kick. Uh, sorry. Not answering.

2nd minute: Sloppy possession by Inter, by United picks it up and counters. Ronaldo is booed severely on his first touch. Then gets a free kick.

3rd minute: From about 25 out. Ronaldo with a rocket but right into Julio Cesar's arms. Game on.

4th minute: O'Shea with a gift to Adriano near the edge of the box, but he can't make anything of it. And they give it back to United.

5th minute: United very patient and deliberate in any build up. Evra earns a corner off a good Zanetti tackle.

6th minute: HOLY SHIT. That was a rocket header from Ronaldo off the corner by Giggs. Julio Cesar with an unreal save from point blank range. Awesome stuff early.

7th minute: Inter chasing the game a bit as United are keeping possession fairly easily. Rivas on Park gives United another free kick from about 30 out. Ronaldo takes it... Just wide. Forces a dive from Cesar but it curves about 2 feet wide. United with the chances early.

9th minute: Now Inter... At the edge of the United box. Ball goes to the right and Stankovic puts it into row DD. Oops.

And my picture flickers. Don't fuck this up ESPN.

11th minute: Stankovic again sends one in to low orbit. Just an awfful toe punch.

12th minute: United easily the more composed side. Inter look tentative on even the shortest of passes. They've had one good sting of passes around the box. United with a throw deep in Inter's half.

14th minute: Zanetti takes Carrick down just outside the 18...

Gigss takes it. And knocks it off the wall. Inter are giving United all kinds of chances from set pieces.

15th minute: Poor communication from Maicon and Ibra and Inter waste another trip to the outside of the United box. Inter look like crap.

17th minute: Inter almost slowing things down. But United counter and Berbs almost hits Park with a clever flick through. Cesar picks it up and the threat is over.

18th minute: Ack! Adriano collections a sky ball and feeds it back to Zanetti who again allows Van Der Sar to tend goal while touching himself if he so chooses.

19th minute: Berbs is deep but some nice defensive cover picks it up from Inter and they counter. Adriano collects it turns it up field. The ball gets to Zanetti and again the cross is errant. Good end-to-end for both teams. Nothing comes from it.

21st minute: Fletcher takes down Santon but no whistle. Ronaldo turns it over and Inter are countering, whoops... No they aren't.

22nd minute: And a feed from Ronaldo deflects right into the box and it hits Giggs in the ass. He can't find it or he had an easy goal. Cleared for a corner that falls dangerously in the box. The ball goes back across the box and Evra sends a nice header just wide of the far post. United having the better of it.

24th minute: Ibra gets a long ball and goes 1-on-3. Kicks it in to Evans' shins and it deflects back to midfield. Now United go long. Suddenly it Route 1 from both sides. United with a throw on the Inter third.

26th minute: Do we overrate Serie A this much? Blackburn looked like they posed more questions over the weekend... Oh and Giggs gets in alone. He's got Ceasr lined up and he makes a huge save. Wasted by United.

28th minute: That was horrid defense by Rivas. Just shocking. Giggs had a one-on-one down the left side. They keep Inter on the defensive off the corner. Adriano fails to clear. Ronaldo falls down and He gets the free kick. Shocker.

28th minute: Another beauty free kick and a rocket at that from Ronaldo who forces another great save from Cesar. Oh... and now a header from Ronaldo goes just wide as he had Cesar flat-footed.

30th minute: Someone check Jose's pants and see if he's shat himself yet.

31st minute: Another free kick for United. Their 114th. It is still scoreless. I was joking but before I can even get this posted, Berbs earns another free kick. Ronaldo takes this one from almost the same spot he hit one against Blackburn over the weekend.

32nd minute: And the natives are getting restless. That's lot of whistling from the locals. Ibra offside on a long ball.

34th minute: Inter's best chance yet. Muntari gets deep but his feed for Adriano goes long to the back post and is cleared away by O'Shea.

36th minute: Inter can't get out of their own half or get out of their own way. A nice ball from Ibahimovic with a clever backheel from Stankovic, but there's not enough on it to worry Van der Sar who collects it. That's the first thing he's had to do all day.

38th minute: Ibra almost feeds it to Adriano but O'Shea gets a touch to it and kills what would have been a naked run in on Van der Sar. At least Inter looks like it belongs on the same pitch, but just barely. United on a counter...

39th minute: Ibra with a nifty move to get some space coming out of the corner and he knocks one toward goal. Adriano tries to redirect but it VdS there first.

41st minute: Cesar comes out and jumps high to punch away a ball off the corner. It's a nervy moment and Chivu clears it down the pitch.

43rd minute: You'd never know that United were the ones with the defensive issues entering the match. Rivan and Santon have been iffy. Evans and O'Shea have been solid. Shit call and Toldo gets carded on the bench? Huh? Yep, Toldo carded for talking shit to the ref and know he's having a laugh about it on the bench. Anyway, O'Shea got Muntari in the nuts and they called Muntari for the foul.

45th minute: Santon takes a shot and it's deflected back. Now Maicon gets fouled by Carrick. It's yellow. For Evra? Or Carrick?

HALF. Just one minute of stoppage. Inter lucky to be in a 0-0 match.

Okay, just went to gamecast to check... there was no card on either Evra or Carrick for that challenge on Maicon right before half.

Inter were getting run off the pitch for the first 30, then merely outplayed for the next 15. They gave up about 8 free kick, 6 of which required some good keeping by Julio Cesar. Inter has also made a spectator out of Van der Sar. So, if Jose wants to see the round of 8, he's going to have to do some halftime voodoo so that a different team takes the pitch in second half. A 0-0 draw isn't a disaster for Inter, but this Inter team cannot win at Old Trafford.

Okay, well farting will be interesting for the Inter players as they all now have a second asshole.

Cordoba on Rivas off for Inter.

2nd Half

KICK

46th minute: Muntari wastes no time in giving it away in the United third to undermine and Inter threat early.

47th minute: Now Ibra deep on the left side. He makes a nice little loft pass into the box, but Evans clears. It... Oh, and Adriano misses a sure goal. Ibra let it go by him right to Adriano who knocks it off his own plant foot to send it over the bar.

48th minute: Oh and Adriano goes down on a cross. Rio with a hand on him but no call. Could have gone either way, but of course, no United player ever fouls anyone in the box.

50th minute: Inter already look a different side. Adriano really did have Van der Sar flat-footed and beaten. Then on a good cross from Ibra, Adriano went down in the box. He flooped but Rio had his hand up on his shoulders. Could have been a foul but Adriano's dive didn't help his cause.

51st: Stankovic takes a "Eh, why the not?" low shot from range. It goes wide without troubling Van der Sar. Now United countering... and they hold it up and reverse field. Evra with a good low cross to the feet of Park but it's broken up and cleared.

54th minute: Yep, different Inter team. Crisper. Making better challenges.

55th minuteL United take it down the left side and Park crosses one long and wide. Julio Cesar lets it go for a goal kick.

56th minute: Ibra gets loose alone deep on the left. But O'Shea blocks the cross. Ibra collects the rebound and sends it back in. O'Shea deflects again and it goes for a corner. The corner goes to the far post. On contact between Adriano and Van der Sar, there's a whistle against Inter.

57th minute: Chivu with a two-footer on Berbs who sells it. It was probably a card, but the Bulgarian did his best shot-victim. Yellow for Chivu.

59th minute: Reading the comments, apparently Bendtner is sucking total ass.

Back in Italy, Maicon gets carded. Bullshit. That wasn't a yellow. Just once I'd like to see a match involving United that was ref'ed fairly. IF that was a card, then Evra's tackle was a card.

60th minute: United is starting to look a little gassed. Expect to see Tevez or Rooney in the next 5 miuntes. And Ronaldo goes to the turf and gets a whistle. Fag.

61st minute: An offside Berbs isn't whistled. And he heads it to Park who is guilty of an obvious handball. And there's a whistle. Thanks ref. Not like it wasn't blatant or anything. Inter making United work on defense a little.

63rd minute: And down goes Ronaldo again. This time no whistle. He pouts. Inter give it away and United counter. Park tries to hit Giggs with all kinds of real estate in front of him, but his ball isn't in the same zip code, or Italian equivalent thereof.

65th minute: Cordoba with a nice header back to Cesar to keep Giggs from getting a shot. And back the othe way. Ibra with a cheeky kick shot. And Muntari is tripped. Oh, and no call...? Really? Come on.

66th minute: United.... Should have scored. Ronaldo gets deep and sends one across the naked goal mouth. Park can't get it. Berbs can't get it. And it's finally cleared out for a corner. Just off the foot of two United players. Ronaldo almost created that by himself. Fucker is good. But he's still a diving douche.

68th minute: Ronaldo again, trying to get loose on the right. He's shielded by Santon and he pushes the youngster down and falls with him. Ha ha. Card his ass, ref. Nope. Just a whistle.

69th minute: Maicon wastes a free kick from about 30 meters out. He swings it wide and high and never bothers Van der Sar. Back the other way... Header flicked to Giggs on the right goes long and out of bounds. Teams swapping the ball at midfield.

71st minute: No liquid football today. Muntari makes a nice move to force a foul from Fletcher. Oooh, and a yellow to boot. Of all the things to draw the first United card, it's that? Not that they've been dirty, but they've certainly had harder challenges. Inter on the attack.

72nd minute: Cambiasso finds Adriano in the box, and against he botches it. That's twice that Ibra has made a nice move to let the ball go through but Adriano couldn't get the ball settled to get a shot off from the edge of the 6.

74th minute: And Cambiasso just stabs it away from Ronaldo. Nice tackle. Inter actually trying to come more up the center of United. They go long to Adriano. Ugh... and Muntari misses two targets in the box. The floater goes easily to Van der Sar.

76th minute: Giggs gets space in front he runs across the box. He fires and it's blocked. Cordoba with a nice block as Giggs had a good look at goal there.

Mutari off Cruz on for Inter.

Adriano off Balotelli on for Inter.

77th minute: Berbatov gets in but Chivu rides him far enough out that by the time Berbs gets it settled his angle is cut off and he pushes it to outside of the net.

79th minute: Cruz botches a give-and-go with Ibrahimovic. Now United walk it back up the pitch. Turnover at the edge of the box. Inter coming back. Game is slowing on both sides as they swap possession.

80th minute: Corner United. Evans fouled Cesar on the in-swinger. Rooney getting instructions from Sir Alex. So he's about to come on...

82nd minute: Maicon with a steal. Evra with a BLATANT hand ball on the edge of the box. No whistle. Ball is cross in... How the fuck did Cambiasso not score that. Ugh... That was a terrible non-call on the Evra handball. It must have been bad as even United apologist Smyth thought it was a handball.

Rooney on Park off for United.

83rd minute: So off a throw deep in the United end Ibra flicked it across the box and it hit Cambiasso in the chest but he couldn't get anything behind it so it was saved by Van der Sar. Best chance for Inter all night. So close that Ibra had already started celebrating. Doh.

85th minute: Long free kick for Inter. Ibra takes it, and it comes off Evans but they give a goal kick to United. Really, that was not a good call.

86th minute: So 0-0 is looking more and more likely...

87th minute: Stankovic gets it deep. And the cross comes in, but it's cleared by O'Shea. Ball comes out and Ronaldo finds the ground to draw a foul on Balotelli. It was a foul.

88th minute: And a yellow for Rooney who came in late and high on Cambiasso. Tommy Smyth is trying to fellate Rooney, but that's a yellow.

89th miunte: Whoa... Awful decision by Cesar to come out and Inter almost gift one to United, but Cordoba gets a great touch to push the ball wide to safety. Or wait, on replay was it Julio Cesar that got the touch?

Three minutes of stoppage.

90 +1: Stankovic from distance. Gets it off but it goes high over the bar. Never a real threat. But Inter still pressing.

90 +2: Rooney with a chip in to the box that floats to Cesar. United back on the attack. And Ronaldo takes a dive on minimal contact and gets a dubious whistle. WTF? A Yellow for Cordoba for that? Okay. Contact was legit on the replay, but that was no card. God, I hate Ronaldo. And the Spanish ref is buying every bit of his histrionics today. So United with a free kick at the death.

90 +3: With the last kick, Ronaldo lasers one right into Julio Cesar. On the rebound the whistle blows. So no second chance for United as it comes off Cesar's chest.

Game. 0-0. So it's all on the line for the return at Old Trafford.

Thanks for playing along.

Read more on "Champions League Liveblog: Ashtray Floors, Dirty Clothes, And Filthy Jokes"...

Whither EPL Playoffs?

Manchester United is a giant Jurassic-sized mosquito in my life. The club is too big for me to nonchalantly swat away, the resulting damage from its bite has left me pale, sallow, weak, and it is generally sucking my will to live.

Or, at least, the club is bleeding out any enjoyment of the EPL (suck it, Barclays!) season. I just wish some club named Off! would come around to rid us of this pest.

Sunday was likely the climax of the season when previously impotent road team Manchester City held an uninspired Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Ironically, the Manchester Blues handed hated city rivals the Manchester Reds a seven point advantage at the top of the table and given the Borg-like efficiency of the Red squad likely will never relinquish.

The next twelve EPL (suck it, Barclays!) matches are just the denouement of this year’s story tying up the loose ends of what seemed such a promising story in December.

Give Manchester United its due, Blackburn did its best Bilbo Baggins performance wounding the previously impenetrable (at least for the past umpteen matches) United scales with a Roque Santa Cruz strike, but ManU still prevailed 2-1 keeping Rovers in the drop zone. The Paraguayan’s manager last season is the current (checks internet, yup still there) Citeh manager and was Santa Cruz’s suitor this January transfer season managed to stay his execution with Sunday’s draw. Really, all that seems to be of interest anymore is the relegation battle and European slots.

To help maintain interest, and to obtain executive support earn a bit more revenue, it might be time for the EPL to consider a playoff system. It may not be Game 39, but it would certainly add some drama to season’s end. Plus, it could serve a dual purpose of making the Jurassic-mosquitoes extinct or at least less common.

In the US, soccerphiles have long proselytized on the greatness of the relegation system. So, it seems appropriate that EPL borrow a staple of the US sports systems (sans college football, of course)—the playoffs. Surely, the EPL (suck it, Barclays!) could wring a few more ducats out of it.

What kind of system would it be? I can envision four different formats—with 2, 4, 6, or 8 teams—each with pluses and minuses.

Two teams—only the top two point totals in the regular season make the playoff. It could be a home-and-away or one-off at Wembley. It has the benefit of not adding much to the season, but really doesn’t affect the power structure.

Four teams—the top four point totals get in with the title and the top CL qualifying spot up for grabs. These could be home-and-away series or just one-offs with the higher seed with homefield advantage in the semis and the final at Wembley. Again, this doesn’t really affect the current power structure, but at least it keeps the title alive until the end of the season and more teams have an incentive to play in the final weeks.

Six teams—top six point totals qualify with the top two getting a bye to the semis while the next four play one-offs with the highest point totals getting homefield. This format would only add two weeks to the season if the first round is played midweek, semis on the weekend and the final at Wembley a week later. Plus, the winning team would get the top qualifying CL spot and the title, potentially shunting the fourth place regular season squad to the UEFA Cup, which would bring all sorts of excitement to the competition. This has the potential to be the best option not adding too many games or time to the season but including enough teams to potentially disrupt the current power structure.

Eight teams—essentially the same as the six-team format without the byes. The drawback with this format is that you are getting to NBA-numbers for playoff inclusion, which cheapens the regular season a bit too much adds too much time to the season.

Would the EPL ever extend the season for playoffs? The Cola-ship already has them and I think it has been a success. Other European leagues have playoffs as well. I think it is workable with two caveats of working within the CL framework to prevent fixture congestion if an EPL club progresses to the final stages and the worry of having too long of a season.

Read more on "Whither EPL Playoffs?"...